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5 Ways to Improve Workflow and Productivity in Radiology Departments

Extended lifespans and aging populations are changing healthcare. Specifically, it is changing the role of radiology departments.

The increased use of imaging is forcing radiologists and their other team members to handle larger volumes of patients and more complex cases.

Departments must do whatever they can to optimize workflow and productivity to handle the heavy workload.

Radiology departments who want to improve workflow and increase productivity should consider doing the following:

1.      Changing scheduling strategies may reduce no-shows

At any given time, approximately 3 percent of radiology patients miss pre-scheduled imaging appointments, according to a report in the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR)1. No-show rates for mammography and ultrasound appointments are more than double.

The study reported that between 2000 and 2015, 94,096 of 2,893,626 patient visits were no-shows1.

No-shows not only negatively impact the efficiency of departments’, but delays in diagnosis and treatment lead to worsened patient care and increases in death, according to the report.

A no-show also impacts other patients because another person could have been imaged during the unused appointment.1 

When patients don’t show up for imaging, organizations also lose money on the time staff spent:

  • Scheduling
  • Determining examination protocol
  • Determining financial pre-authorization for procedures

Researchers determined that people miss radiology departments for other reasons than why they miss other appointments. According to the study, individuals failed to show up due to:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion about the cost of procedures
  • Misunderstandings about exams

Researchers concluded that modality type and scheduling lead were the most predictive factors of no-show visits.

They further concluded that the information could be used to guide new interventions, such as flexible scheduling and targeted reminders, according to the report1.

2.      Investing in imaging informatics experts with data science experience gives radiologists more control

A study in the American Journal of Roentgenology2 indicates that radiology departments must invest in imaging informatics experts with IT and data science expertise. This investment helps the departments remain competitive and continue to take advantage of the benefits of strong imaging informatics.

IT is now a critical part of any radiology department, according to the study2. Informatics will become even more vital as IT continues to evolve in all areas, including:

  • Outsourced software and hardware services
  • Cloud storage
  • Big data
  • The continued explosion in use of mobile devices

The actual function of IT hardware and software may remain the responsibility of IT specialists, but radiology leadership, including radiologists and department executives, need to become more technology savvy. The study recommends that radiology leadership must address the innovation, planning, and development strategy around informatics2.

Like other industries did years ago, healthcare IT is starting to move away from managing technology, choosing which vendor products to purchase, and struggling to integrate each product.

Healthcare IT needs to follow other IT-smart industries that have shifted their role to reusing existing data, predicting delivery, and maintenance processes. This shift allows radiology departments to gain local control with domain-specific informatics solutions2.

Leaders must work fast to influence enterprise IT solutions and provide the radiology-specific IT knowledge needed to drive IT solutions that optimize radiology quality and efficiency.

3.      Integrating an electronic health record-based patient coverage database improves workflow

Contacting doctors to provide the results of patients' imaging is an integral part of the workflow. However many challenges prevent simple, prompt communication, according to the Journal of Digital Imaging3.

The study3 showed that radiologists’ workflow and satisfaction improved when radiology applications and an electronic health record-based patient coverage base were integrated.

Researchers3 further determined that building a plugin to integrate doctor coverage information into the workflow is feasible, straightforward, and leads to significant improvement in radiologist satisfaction.

4.      Use specific terminology

Encouraging specificity has proven effective in improving quality follow-up imaging recommendations for patients.

Asking radiologists to use specific phrases in reports and alerting clinicians as to when patients should be screened again has shown to improve the precision of follow-up imaging, according to a report by the AMIA Annual Symposium Proceedings Archive4.

 

5.      Improving information flow increases productivity

Though much of the data flow in radiology departments5,6 is relatively seamless, many systems and processes continue to be inefficient, which decrease productivity.

Integrating and leveraging radiology software systems will prevent departments from having to navigate multiple programs for dictation, picture archives, and electronic health records, according to a study in Radiographics6.

These types of inefficiencies take radiologists away from reading images and can lead gaps in patient care, according to the study.

Using IT to improve information flow can optimize workflow and enhance patient care.

Radiology departments have ways to boost efficiency

Leveraging technology is one of the best ways to improve workflow, increase productivity, and optimize patient care.

References:

  1. Rosenbaum, J., et. al. Understanding Why Patients No-Show: Observations of 2.9 Million Outpatient Imaging Visits Over 16 Years. Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR). 2018. https://www.jacr.org/article/S1546-1440(18)30397-1/fulltext Web. April 30, 2019.
  2. Kohli, M., et. al. Rethinking Radiology Informatics. American Journal of Roentgenology. 2015. https://www.ajronline.org/doi/full/10.2214/AJR.14.13840 Web. April 24, 2019.
  3. Filice, R. Who You Gonna Call? Automatically Connecting Radiologists to the Right Clinician. Journal of Digital Imaging. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5603439/ Web. April 24, 2019.
  4. Mabotuwana, T., et. al. Improving Quality of Follow-Up Imaging Recommendations in Radiology. AIMA Annual Symposium Proceedings Archive. 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5977608/ Web. April 24, 2019.
  5. Towbin, A.J., et. al. Improving efficiency in the radiology department. Pediatric Radiology. 2017. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00247-017-3828-7 Web. April 23, 2019.
  6. Doshi, AM, et. al. Informatics Solutions for Driving an Effective and Efficient Radiology Practice. Radiographics. 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30303784 Web. April 16, 2018.